The year was 1997.

We’d been married 2 years and each year, my husband, then in the Indian Navy, would get a 15-20 days vacation twice a year. Once a year, we’d visit our respective parents and the second break, we’d decided, we’d travel to unknown places. We’d save all year through for this break and while we’d largely backpack, we’d also put some money aside for shopping. Back then, our house looked like a museum, filled as it was, with artefacts bought from every where we roamed.

It was in the summer of ’97 that I told my husband that I wanted to visit Gujarat. I don’t recall the incident that prompted me to want to visit; all I knew was that my chubby buddy, who’d grown up with me in Kerala, and had moved to Gujarat for further education, was ‘seeing’ boys and would soon be hitched.

In October of that year, we took a train from Vizag to Baroda. I remember it took 2 and a half days to cross from the east of India to the west of India. We travelled in second AC and used all our time to read, play scrabble and sleep. It is a happy memory, even though today, I’d think a thousand times before undertaking such a long train journey.

We reached Baroda in the wee hours and headed to my friend U’s place. Her younger sis, J, and her mother welcomed us. Later that day, we went to the Gujarat tourism information office to kickstart our trip. We were given a brochure with a vague map, that showed two Harappan sites – Lothal and Dholavira. I was excited! I am a self confessed History buff. Museums are my favourite places! After we toured Lothal (that’s another post that I shall write later), we decided to go to Dholavira – a new excavation, located near the Rann of Kutch.

Now remember that this was a time before Google and information was ‘not’ available on our fingertips. The brochure was all we had to go by and of course, a TTK Map, that hubby and I swore by.

This was the ’90s and even my friends didn’t know where the Rann was! We went back to the tourism office to enquire, and all they told us was that we’d have to take a train to Gandhidham and a bus to Bhuj to figure how to reach Dholavira. And so we did: boarded unreserved on a train to Gandhidham, reached and found a lodge to shower etc. while trying to figure how to reach Bhuj. We were told that tourist buses were the cheapest options.

To cut a long story short, we managed to reach Bhuj and went to the bus station the following morning to be told that we should take a bus to Rapar because the “Rann is somewhere near it.”. Once again, we took one of state transport buses and shared space with villagers carting their goods and even animals on the bus! At some point, the bus broke down and we eventually reached Rapar around 3:00 PM.

Rapar was a village where we found one eatery and managed a lunch of khichri and dal bhaat, rotli, shaak. Since we knew that we wouldn’t be able to go back to Bhuj the same night, we had to look for a place to stay. We were told that the best place would be the dharamshala. Relieved that we’d have a place to shack in, we went to the taxi stand and after much deliberation, found a driver who was willing to venture into that area because “When we return it would be night and it is a dangerous place due to dacoits.”

Now we were 3 girls and 1 guy in the group and we didn’t blink once before we sat in his run down TATA Sumo. Because Gujarat is like that. It is easy to trust people. Moreover, the three of us felt safe with my hubby.

Dholavira was located at the end of a straight road from Rapar, that crossed the Rann. When we saw the ‘Sea of White’ we were spellbound! We couldn’t believe that the sea of white was actually a sea of salt, rock salt, extending as far as we could see, till the horizon! We were told that the area was famous for its wild asses, but we didn’t spot any.

Mesmerised as we were but running out of time, we drove into the village behind which the Harappan site was being excavated.

The site was huge, even back then. We dug into our memories, and recalled all that we had learned in school about the Indus valley civilisation and its cities. Built on multiple levels, the cities had a gateway, and even underground drainage systems. The site was totally deserted, but for the caretaker and his family. We even got to see the excavated artefacts laid out in a makeshift storehouse.

As the sun began setting, we quickly huddled into the car and began our return journey to Rapar. It was a scary drive back as the road was a single lane, in the middle of nowhere. At some point during the drive, the car came to a grinding halt because the driver had noticed a snake crossing the road. We were terrified! We shouted at him to keep driving because we didn’t want to be apprehended by dacoits!

Finally, at about 10:30 PM we reached the dharamshala – our abode for the night, and the next day, we left for Bhuj. Our return leg from Bhuj to Gandhidham to Ahmedabad is a blur.

All I remember is the adventure… and the Rann, the desert of salt; magnificent, one of its kind and a wonder of nature! Best time to visit is on a full moon night when moonlight shines across the desert.

Postscript: I went back to the Rann two years ago, but due to paucity of time, couldn’t manage to squeeze in Dholavira. I hope to visit in 2019, take better photos relive some fond memories . Fingers crossed!

Ritu

Author Ritu

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